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Oncothyreon: Deep Dive Into Stimuvax

Stocks in this article: ONTY DNDN BMY AGEN PFE

SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- Can Oncothyreon's (ONTY) experimental cancer immunotherapy Stimuvax prolong the lives of lung cancer patients the same way that Dendreon's (DNDN) Provenge has in prostate cancer or Bristol-Myer Squibb's (BMY) Yervoy in melanoma?

I dislike starting columns with a question, but in this case it's central to any investment thesis involving Oncoythyreon. It's also a question without an answer at the moment, although that will change relatively soon. A large phase III study of Stimuvax in patients with non-small cell lung cancer is underway with an interim analysis to be conducted sometime within the next six months.

Investors are clearly focused on this near-term event, doubling the market value of Oncothyreon in the last two months. The stock closed Friday at $8.54. Wedbush drug analyst Greg Wade was in no mood to gum up the stock's momentum-fueled run, so late last month he raised his Oncothyreon price target from $7 to $15 because, in Wade's words, "the street is pricing in a greater likelihood for Stimuvax success."

I included Oncothyreon on my list published Wednesday of 10 Biotech Trades for the Second Half of 2011. Here, I put together a deep dive into Stimuvax and its chance for success in the ongoing phase III lung cancer study.

Can you explain, again, what's meant by "cancer immunotherapy?"

Sure, cancer immunotherapies, known colloquially as "cancer vaccines," are designed to train and stimulate a patient's immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells.

It sounds like an elegant and relatively easy way to fight cancer, potentially better and less toxic than, say, pumping a patient full of toxic chemotherapy drugs. Unfortunately, cancer is both deadly and smart because it has devised countless ways in which it can hide from a patient's immune system.

The cancer immunotherapy field is hot today because of successes like Dendreon and Bristol-Myers Squibb, both of which have proven that these new therapies can, indeed, extend the lives of cancer patients. However, as an investor do not forget to pay respects to the longer list of companies who have failed in their efforts to develop a cancer immunotherapy: CancerVax, Antigenics (now known as Agenus (AGEN), Cell Genesys (bought in a distressed sale by Biosante Pharmaceutical (BPAX)), Favrille, Genitope, Pfizer (PFE), among others.

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